Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lessons from Sunday

Over the last few days of thinking about Sunday, a few ideas have settled out of the cloud of action and emotion that followed my finding her, taking her to the shelter, and her death.

  1. Take tick-borne diseases seriously, and 'prevention is better than cure'.

I paid lip-service to the possibility of one of our animals becoming sick from the parasites that throng to them during the summer: I bought Frontline and wormer but did not use them with the precision and care that make them effective prophylactics. It took looking into Sunday's belly and seeing how her blood could not clot, making her body unable to cope with her surgery to make me realise that taking an extra five minutes to apply Frontline properly really can save a life – or at least the misery and expense of illness. After Lizzie was spayed, the vet said something about her having bled heavily internally possibly because of ticks, but he never emphasised either the seriousness of the problem or how easy it is to combat.

Sputnik had his tests a few days ago and recieved the all clear for leishmania and erlichiosis, and the vet showed me how to clip the hair on his neck so that the Frontline goes directly on to the skin for full absorbtion. “Every month,” she said. “You have to put it on at least every month to be sure that he's covered. And if you see that it begins to be less effective, switch brands. Our ticks and fleas sometimes become resistant if you always use the same brand.”

  1. Educate yourself and ask questions.

I don't blame the vets at the shelter for Sunday's death: they're busy and rely on others to obtain the details of the dogs on which they operate. Sunday left the shelter kennels and went to the clinic for three procedures – a blood test for leishmania and one full blood screening for other parasites or problems, and a spay. She was spayed before she was tested. Had she been tested first, the vets would have been able to tell that she had a erlichiosis. She would have been treated for a month and then could have been spayed safely. I didn't know enough to insist on that. Before your animal goes for a routine procedure, educate yourself as to what is involved and the potential risks, and don't be afraid to ask questions or question authority. You can't know everything, but learn what you can.

  1. Understand your local shelter's policy.

Cyprus has a serious animal welfare problem: far too many animals for the number of available homes. Shelter space is extremely limited, and only one shelter, Paphiakos, will take in any animal with no questions asked. The up-side of Paphiakos' policy is that if you find an animal on the road or in distress, you can count on them to take in without a quibble. The down-side is that that animal will either be quickly euthanised or will cost a lot to extricate.

When I found Lizzie, I took her to the nearest shelter, PAWS. Annie M., whom I had known for years, initially refused to take her on the grounds of having no room. She eventually conceded when I told her that I'd lay bets that I would be back for her within the week. I was, and I took Lizzie joyfully home after paying a donation of ten cyprus pounds. In the days that followed, I took her to be spayed and chipped and vaccinated, and for a few happy weeks, she was a part of the family. But Annie has gone back to the UK and PAWS is only open for two hours each morning, so I took Sunday to Paphiakos. When I mentioned that on a local forum, I took a lot of flak: “any dog, particularly a hunter, taken to Paphiakos is almost immediately killed” and other similar comments. I checked with various long-time pet-owners in the area, and they confirmed this. That's why I decided to try to get Sunday out and give her a chance.

Sunday, the day before her op.

But once an animal is in Paphiakos, springing them is not cheap. The website (click on Re-Homing tab)  states clearly that charges for spaying, chipping, vaccinating, parasite treatment, and municipal license must be met REGARDLESS OF WHAT TREATMENT HAS BEEN DONE TO THE ANIMAL PRIOR before it can be released to its new home. In other words, if you want to adopt a dog that has already been spayed, you will still have to pay the spaying charge (115-184 Euros); a dog might have been micro-chipped by its former owner, but you will still have to pay for chipping (34.50). The management justifies this by saying that it needs to cover all charges incurred in its countrywide rescue service, and also by saying that any potential owner needs to understand that having a pet involves financial commitment, but in reality it means that dogs like Sunday are priced out of a home. There are few people like Rosie who would pay her medical bills, sponsor her (90 Euros for six months minimum) in an attempt to keep her off the notorious PTS (put to sleep) list, and even be willing to pay her rehoming fee should she manage to find someone to take her on. The reality for un-chipped dogs like Sunday, who sometimes come in at a rate of ten per day in the hunting season, is euthanasia – often well-within the fifteen days that they are supposed to have as a window for re-homing or adoption.

Sputnik the day we found him in June 2011.
He settled in quickly...

I understand why this situation exists, but it doesn't make the decision of what to do with the stray animals that I find on my doorstep – and there have been around 15 in the last few years – any easier.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Last Sunday morning, as Best Beloved, Sputnik, and I walked the field looking at vines and trees, BB pointed under the fig tree and said "Is that a dog?"

A dog, indeed. Black, with an amputated tail, she seemed too weak to move at first, but then crawled out from under the shade and lay at our feet. Sputnik whined and wiggled with joy. Li'l Bro appeared on his porch.

“I saw her this morning,” he said. “And she took some water but I didn't want to go near because she is covered in ticks” He gave me a bucket and I put some more water in. The black dog drank a little more, then she and Sputnik wandered slowly away together.

Back at the house, I woke Sophia. “We have a mission,” I said. “There's a dog in the field that we must take to the shelter, and I need your help.”

There was no sign of either dog when, twenty minutes later, we returned to the field in the Land Rover. We searched the cafe parking lot and Sophia ventured into the supermarket store room, and suddenly Sputnik and his new friend came into view. As soon as we opened the back door, Sputnik leapt inside, but the black dog needed help and as I lifted her in I got a good look at the hundreds of ticks gorging themselves all over her.

We arrived at the shelter and I handed her over. “What will happen to her,” I asked the lady who had scanned her for a chip. “Will she be put to sleep?”

“With no chip, she has fifteen days as long as she's neither sick nor aggressive,” came the answer. “But hunting dogs like this are very hard to rehome and she probably won't be claimed or adopted within that time.”

Sophia and I exchanged a look. “No way,” I said. “You know that your father does not like dogs and will not let us have another. Don't even think about it!”


I went back to the shelter on Monday to try and increase her chances.

“If I pay her to spay and vaccinate her, will it make her more easily homeable?” I asked Christine, who has run the shelter since 1994.

“You can pay to have her spayed, certainly, but whoever homes her still has to pay our charges,” she answered. “We have to get our money back, and it says clearly on our website that whoever adopts from here has to pay for vaccinations, parasite treatment, chipping, and spaying – about 275 Euros in her case.”

“Even if that has already been paid for that particular dog?”

“Whatever has already been paid for that particular dog.” It seemed a little steep to me, and the likelihood of someone paying that much for this dog seemed very remote.

Then a voice piped up behind my right shoulder. “What if I pay her medical bills and sponsor her for six months? Would that give her a chance?”

I turned in surprise and saw Rosie, a woman of about my age whom I always think of as kind-hearted and spontaneous, with a lot more money than sense. “It would indeed!” said Christine.

“And if at the end of that six months, if I can manage, could I take her home myself?”

But that was too much to ask. “You would have to pay the 275 Euros and 10 Euros for every day that she has been in the shelter,” Christine responded promptly.

I did the maths quickly and reached 2,075 Euros – never mind the cost of bills and sponsorship – another 290 Euros. "Well done, Paphiakos," I thought. “You've just priced this dog well out of a home.”

But Rosie was determined. “I'll find her a home sooner than that,” she said, filling out the paperwork and handing over her credit card. “Now,” she said, turning to me. “I'm off to the UK for a fortnight from tomorrow, so you need to check up on our patient for the next few days while she has her op and when she goes back to the shelter later. Must fly!”

The lady in charge of sponsorship turned to me blankly. “Well I never,” she began. Then: “She didn't give her a name!” But Rosie had gone.

“Sunday,” I said. “I found her on Sunday, so let's call her that!”

Christine made some calls to the kennels to confirm that she was still there and I heard her say: “There's someone here who wants to sponsor her, so take her of the pts list and send her over in the morning for a full MOT and a spay.” Turning to me, she said. “Phone tomorrow for an update, and thank-you very much for your help and interest.”

I called over the next few days and went to the clinic on Wednesday morning, just before Sunday was due  for her operation. She looked so much better! She had put on some weight, and all the ticks were gone. I took her out for a walk and she eagerly sniffed though the dust as we walked the perimeter of the parking lot and ventured into a grove of olive trees. She was unaccustomed to a lead and kept tripping and tangling her legs and mine.  She would lick my hand and wrinkle her nose at me every time I had to crouch to untangle her, clearly thrilled to be out of her cage and receiving some attention.  After fifteen minutes, I took her back and gave her a drink. “She'll be ready to go home on Friday,” the nurse told me. “Right as rain!”

Back in the parking lot I dialled BB's number.

“Yes, Manamou,” he said. “What can I do for you?”

“If you say yes to this,” I answered. “I promise that I will never ask you for anything else...”

“Get to the point!”

“You know the dog we found on Friday...?” I heard his “Oh, no!” before I had even reached the end of the sentence.

“Please, darling,” I continued, despising myself for falling back on feminine wiles. “You know I don't ask for very much, and she won't be a problem --”

“Tomorrow,” he growled. “I'll tell you when I get back tomorrow.”

I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out rehoming strategies and spoke with a friend who has contacts with shelters that rehome strays on the Continent. I brainstormed with several people linked to the animal welfare world and we came up with various possibilities to save Sunday without having to pay too much.


The next morning I called the clinic to find out how she had weathered the surgery and find out when she would be returning to the kennels. “Just hang on, Asproulla,” the receptionist said. “The vet needs a word with you.”

Within a minute, Doctor Nefeli was on the line. “I'm sorry,” she said, in her gentle Greek accent. “Your dog didn't make it.” She explained that the surgery had gone well, but that Sunday had been found dead in the clinic earlier, and that the post-mortem had shown haemorrhaging from the sub-cutaneous capillaries and internal bleeding. The ligatures, Nefeli said, had all held and the surgery had been successful: the bleeding was probably from erlichiosis, a tick-borne bactirial infection that attacks the white blood cells and prevents clotting. “I have her body here,” she said. “So if you want to collect it you can.”

'I'll bring her home,' I thought, dialling Rosie's mobile number. She answered on the third ring, confirmed that I should, and that should I be offered the money back I should use it to check Sputnik for the same disease, and roll the sponsorship over onto some other unfortunate animal who might benefit. “Fat chance of that!” I told her. “You'll get nothing back from Paphiakos!”

But I was wrong. At the clinic the vets put Sunday's body on the table, her head and forelimbs covered by a towel. As they opened the incision and showed the ligatures all in place but the sub-cutaneous layer full of blood, Christine came in. “What shall we do with Rosie's money, do you know what she might want?” I explained, and she sniffed, her eyes beginning to tear. “You'll have me crying now,” she said. “What a kind woman... Don't worry, I'll find another needy dog who will benefit. And you bring in your Sputnik to be tested just as soon as you can.”

One of the vets carried Sunday to the car and I drove her home. Nick and Stellios, Alex and Sophia's friends who had been at the house since the early morning had dug me a beautiful grave up at the top of the upper vinyard, and as I was getting her body out of the bag, Best Beloved walked up between the rows of vines and helped me to put her in the hole. I pulled back the corner of the towel and looked at her face for the last time, her brown eyes half-open, her tongue slightly out, and I remembered her as she was on her last walk the day before, eyes laughing, stumpy tail wagging hard enough to move her whole skinny body.

“Bye-bye, sweet Sunday,” I said, arranging her limbs against the squared off walls.

We shovelled the earth back in and as we headed back to the house.


This experience has taught me a lot – which I will go into in later posts: this one is already long enough. For now, though, please, dog owners among my readers, correct use of Frontline or other anti-tick products is an easy way to avoid a disease that can kill your animal. I had only just met Sunday, and losing her was painful out of all proportion to the length of time I had known her.